by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Hopkins descends from the grand declaration of the first line to the murky admission of man’s failure to uplift the world. Some have taken “flame out” in the modern sense of “to go out in a blaze of glory”; a meaning that doesn’t jive with its referent “shining from shook foil,” a shining that does not end. However, the view that takes foil as an entendre with the French sword I find enlightening, connecting that to the Rod two lines later.
After the derogation of the earth by man, the second stanza gives hope, climaxing with perhaps the greatest exhalation in all of poetry: “ah! bright wings”.
by Rae Armantrout
for Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Off the brown brink.”
Over smog colored
the same split
the exhaustive, glancing
but doesn’t gather.
It rhymes and does not
Rae Armantrout is quite a different poet than GMH, but surprisingly lyrical nonetheless. In Day she offers a sequel to Grandeur. The same wings of the Spirit, but there’s tension, they’re split, aflutter. The world flashes, but does not gather; the world does not rise, it does not converge. We are left in tension, awaiting the great “Ah!”